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Mainstream, Vol XLIX No 19, April 30, 2011

Global Leadership And Global Systemic Issues — II

South, North and the United Nations in a 21st Century World

Tuesday 3 May 2011


South, North and the United Nations in a 21st Century World - II

by Boutros Boutros-Ghali And Branislav Gosovic

The following is the second part of a lengthy article being published here in three parts. The first part appeared in Mainstream (April 23, 2011). The next part will be carried in the following issue. —Editor

6. The United Nations of the Future—boosting its Capacities for Global
Leadership roles

A vigorous, strong, fully mandated, properly constituted and resourced world institution is needed to perform global leadership roles in the key issue areas of general importance to the inter-national community. Such leadership— democratic, participatory, representative, enlightened, universal and based on intellectual excellence—is required to help meet the multiple challenges and vast responsibilities of the international agenda.

Increasing the strength and capacity of the United Nations should be recognised as a priority objective. It should be the world institution that governs and orients the globalisation processes and provides the necessary intellectual, policy and practical leadership needed by the international community to confront global systemic issues and take appropriate decisions.

It is important therefore for the international community to begin thinking seriously of more advanced institutional arrangements for global cooperation, for the immediate and more distant future.

A number of initiatives, reports, recommen-dations, books and studies on how to strengthen the UN organisation and overcome its inadequacies were produced over the past few decades, but these have been largely neglected. However, they contain many ideas that could prove useful. Some of the lessons learned and experiences gained in regional integration efforts could no doubt also prove valuable in institution-building at the global level.17

The institution-building advances normally occur through incremental change, induced by global crises and new requirements in a dynamic world system and reflecting the underlying power relations. However, the evolving situation does not allow for the usual muddling-through mode, or waiting for a systemic collapse to induce institutional change and improvement. Rather, it calls for a comprehensive, well-thought- out approach towards bolstering the roles of the UN system in the 21st century.18

Below, we highlight several familiar, albeit politically controversial, structural measures and improvements which could contribute to streng-thening today’s United Nations and should figure in the evolution of its more ambitious, future variants.

The mandate of the United Nations: The mandates, embodied in the UN Charter and in those of the agencies and organisations of the UN system, are sufficiently broad and all-encompassing to accommodate the missions and objectives of the international organisations in the 21st century.

Nonetheless, there is a need to update, expand and reformulate a number of basic texts, documents and international treaties adopted in earlier periods, so that they reflect the changes that the international community is undergoing. Also, there is a need to bring under multilateral purview in the United Nations a number of both new and old areas that need global oversight, management and regulation. In this manner, the gaps that exist in the global edifice will be filled.

Non-state actors, such as transnational corpo-rations, global banking and investment, and the media did not figure on the global scene in the past but now play increasingly prominent roles in world affairs. Their presence needs to be formally recognised and they need to be subjected to regular multilateral scrutiny, appropriate action and disciplines, in particular with regard to issues that transcend the borders of any one state or are of general concern and importance.19

The predicament the United Nations is experiencing is that its mandate extends over a highly unequal world and a divided constituency. It includes the present as well as the concern for the future. Issues on its agenda, inherently complex and which would be difficult to deal with even in a hypothetically uniform and equitable community of like-minded nations, thus become quite formi-dable and are not prone to solutions.

Given the nature of today’s international community, the United Nations faces the underlying dilemma and tension in its work, namely, should it be an organisation of structural change, a role favoured by the developing countries, or should it be an organisation that does not challenge and in fact helps buttress the structural status quo, this being the preference of the North. This contradiction has stymied the organisation.

The efforts by the dominant group of developed countries to harness the organisation to its interests and goals explain many of the hardships that the United Nations has experienced and obstacles it has encountered in its work, institutional development and task expansion. The recent period of unipolarity and unrestrained unilateralism in the global arena, where the United Nations found itself cornered, has clearly exposed these underlying conflicts and tendencies.

Following this regression, one would like to see a renewed effort from the international community to enable and empower the United Nations to act as an institution in the forefront of change and progress, working for a better world, a mission inherent in its Charter and mandate.

The United Nations should thus play a leadership role in countering the global hegemony of power, in promoting worldwide development and the elimination of poverty and social marginalisation, and in democratising international affairs. It should strive to enhance a polycentric world system, and as its aspirational, long-term aim, it should focus its sights on a global community “for, by and of all”.

The UN system offers the institutional structure and platform for dealing with issues of universal concern. This unique advantage should be fully utilised and developed. In this challenging endeavour, the vision and global systemic approach that will orient human society are likely to come primarily from the humanities and social science disciplines, traditionally concerned with the human condition. However, given the pivotal role of the exact sciences and technology in the evolution and functioning of contemporary human society, it is imperative to bring the two domains closer together.

This in itself is not a simple task, given the differences that separate the two communities, including perceptual, institutional and sectoral divides, and the narrow, highly specialised vision that characterises many science and technology disciplines. Here, the role of the United Nations is of special importance. Thanks to its all-encompassing mandate and membership it can confront these interlinkages in their planetary dimensions and formulate global, integrated responses to the needs and challenges. Yet, paradoxically, as a consequence of the ongoing institutional opposition from the developed countries, there are no organisations within the UN system responsible for science and techno-logy or energy, two prominent domains at the interface of social and exact sciences, both of critical importance to the future of humankind.

The unique systemic or holistic perspective and issue linkage inherent in the UN mandate provides the organisation with the opportunity to study, understand and deal with the world system. However, this potential has not been realised, due to institutional inadequacies, and/or has been systematically denied because it represents a potential challenge to the global structural status quo. It needs to be activated, as it offers an essential tool for global leadership and the management of global affairs, which will inevitably need to be more ambitious than the concept of “global governance” currently in use.20

Funding the United Nations: Global tasks, such as those entrusted to the UN, need to be facilitated by the necessary resources and institutional capacity. Unfortunately, a chronic mismatch between its responsibilities and mandates on the one hand, and the necessary human and financial resources on the other hand, continues to hobble the organisation in its work.

The United Nations faces continuous pressure to cap or reduce its costs, staff, structures and functions. Such pressures come most prominently from its leading member-state, and its main financial contributor and the host to its head-quarters. The UN is often portrayed, especially by its media, as a large, inefficient, even corrupt bureaucracy, and as a futile talk-shop used by a multitude of “inconsequential” nation-states from the periphery. The perceived aim of UN bureaucrats is often thought to be the establish-ment of a world government, while the many poor states, often small, are considered to be a menace to global stability, with their exploding populations, poverty, revisionist demands, and their approval of high-cost measures for which the taxpayers in well-off countries have to pay. It is no wonder that hostility to the financing of international organisations is widespread in the establishment and in the general public in that country.

The funding predicament and the stranglehold that it imposes on the United Nations need to be overcome. The organisation should have at its disposal assured and adequate resources to perform its tasks and deal with major needs on its agenda. Its financing should also be freed from the growing influence and pressures exerted both by some of its regular and voluntary contributors. The latter now include corporate donors who contribute either to those programmes in which they have business interests, for example, health and food security, or as a way to gain influence and improve their public image.

The twin goals of expanding the financing available and limiting unilateral demands and pressures on the organisation by key countries could be advanced by decoupling at least part of the UN funding from national budgets and from the Finance Ministries of member-states. This could be achieved through the introduction of a degree of automaticity in the inflow of UN income by establishing innovative, independent sources of non-traditional financing for its work and activities.

This idea was first formally mooted as early as the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. It was then agreed by governments that the matter should be explored. It was subsequently elaborated through a number of specific studies and proposals.21 However, so far, in spite of widespread and mounting support, and some limited pilot efforts in health-related fields, it has not been possible to translate into practice the idea of non-traditional financing for development and environment needs and in support of the functioning of international organisations. This has been due to both inherent complexities, and strong opposition from a number of quarters.

One of the many pending proposals is the international taxation of those economic activities that are made possible by and depend on globalised processes and facilities and are characteristic of contemporary international economy, in particular international financial flows and transactions.22

Another promising potential source of income could result from the international taxation of the management and use of global public goods, for example, communications and cyberspace. In fact, the Internet has already become a conduit for colossal global financial transactions, including e-commerce, advertising, services and virtual products used by a steadily growing global pool of internauts.

The resulting financial bonanza and profits creamed off and often obtained without much effort or investment on the part of those who reap the benefits, end up in accounts of a few frontrunner companies and search engines concentrated in the North. A significant share also goes to a handful of credit-card companies, headquartered in the North, providing services that make possible payments and other financial transactions on the Internet. It would be logical to consider tapping some of these flows to support the work of the international community, such as financing part of the UN budget.23

In the context of our discussion, it is important to recognise the all-important, though indirect, financial contribution to the UN’s global activities made by the technological and communications progress embodied in the Internet. Indeed, the Internet has made it possible for the UN to “cut the corner” in terms of financing thanks to this “free public good”. In the earlier technological epoch, no amount money could have paid for the facilities, capacities and services that the Internet now provides at minimal cost to the organisation in its work.

In conclusion, complex global problems in the years to come will increasingly require international organisations and structures with capacities adequate to the task. Institutional growth and development is thus of critical importance for the United Nations. Adequate funding and organisational capacity should enable the organisation to meet existing and emerging needs. The United Nations should be able to function smoothly and devote its energies to confronting global issues and delivering services and results, without expending its limited institutional energies on ways to survive in a situation of unnecessary, often deliberately induced, chronic financial scarcity.

The time will come when the international community, as it confronts growing global needs and challenges, will have to accept this premise and agree to adequate and generous funding of UN costs, including by innovative means and global taxation. It will thus help develop the inherent, institutional potential of the United Nations both to contribute to, and fulfil the global leadership roles required to deal with the ever increasing number of global systemic issues on its agenda.
International public service and global leadership: The United Nations is an inter-governmental organisation with states as its members. However, its main motor and one of its six principal organs is its secretariat, namely, its staff which deliver products and perform various duties and services within the frame-work of the organisation.

The secretariat’s important contribution and leadership role in the world arena are not properly recognised, or encouraged. Nor does one see political enthusiasm on the part of key member-states to support a significant and comprehensive development of the capacities and functions of secretariat staff, many of whom experience frustration in their work. Instead, these states strive to censure and neutralise institutions with potential in areas they consider sensitive and where they do not wish to see unwanted staff initiatives or thinking.24

In spite of frequent expressions of aversion to “international bureaucracy”, it should be recognised that complex human endeavours cannot function properly without adequate institutional support. A globalising world will require an equal-to-the-task international public service, with a recognised mission of the highest importance. The seeds of such an international public service exist in the diverse mandates that fall within the framework of the UN system, and in the work and experience of the many inter-national secretariats.25

According to the UN Charter, international civil servants should serve the organisation, the international community and its collective goals. As concerns global leadership on global systemic issues, this brings to the fore the unique, but insufficiently tapped, intellectual, analytical, policy and institutional capacity of the UN and other secretariats of the UN system. Their leading, critical role of universal think-tanks guided by the collective vision, aspirations and interests of the international community, should be strengthened and given support by the academic and research community world-wide.

The staff working in international organi-sations should be representative of the global constituency, and familiar with the multiplicity of cross-cutting issues on the international agenda. This presupposes appropriate training and the emergence of a first rate worldwide international public service to contribute to the orientation and management of processes and interactions in a globalising world.

It calls for recognition of a lifelong profession and dedicated international career for individuals working in this service. It means granting them distinct legal personality and identity, possibly detached from their countries of origin. Also it means ending the practice of country staff quotas and appointments to top posts based on the size of financial contribution. This should help to offset the existing asymmetries between countries, and shield the organisation from the practices of some big players whose aim is to influence and control its work from within.

The development and maintenance of such an “internationalised” international public service should utilise universities and advanced learning institutes, which would be established or delegated in different regions within the overall UN framework. Their function should be to nurture, educate and train individuals for international public service careers, in particular those that deal with global, systemic problems and challenges. The worldwide experience of existing graduate schools and programmes can serve as a useful guide in setting up and running such an inter-national UN-centred educational system.

A UN-sponsored network of public universities and graduate schools could grant UN-sanctioned degrees, at all levels, in general and specialised domains. This would serve to attract some of the best brains and highly motivated individuals to work on global public causes and missions. In due course, it would produce a large pool of qualified professionals with an internationalist outlook. Coming from all corners of the planet and guided by public-spirited ideals and values, they would work for international organisations and common public causes worldwide. Thus it would become possible to engage talented individuals with exceptional qualities, some of whom are currently recruited worldwide by banks and corporations and often shun “international bureaucracies”. It would give them a purpose and mission in life that would outweigh such considerations as investor satisfaction and corporate profit, or their own pay, bonuses and personal comfort.

It needs to be recognised that the smooth, integrated functioning of modern societies and of the globalised system will increasingly depend on advanced and highly specialised forms of knowledge. This knowledge will be needed for the management and operation of complex global systems, organisations and networks. Ensuring that such systems function smoothly will rely and depend on technocratic, specialist professions. Members of these professions should be engaged in international public service to satisfy global needs in such vital spheres as energy, food security and health, communications, sustainable develop-ment, and indeed the functioning of the world economy.

In fact, one of the essential aspects of global leadership and the democratisation of international relations will be to overcome the current concen-tration and often monopoly of critical services and expertise and the resulting dependence of the international community on a few major countries and their private corporations. This would entail changes in the existing intellectual property regime in order to harness and apply such knowledge worldwide in the service of the public and common good. It should be an international non-profit public service, with an explicit aim also to contribute to narrowing and overcoming existing socio-economic gaps, meet basic human needs and sustainable development goals, and generate worldwide the sense of cooperation and goodwill. The nucleus of such global capability, as an integral part of the international public service, will need to be established and built in the framework of an evolving United Nations of the future.

The UN as a platform for global leaders: Personalities do matter in the world arena. Individuals such as Gandhi, a political leader, Albert Einstein, a scientist, and Bertrand Russell, a philosopher, readily come to mind. In their time they were seen as genuine, selfless global leaders, their charisma not based on attributes such as position, power, money or appearance. With their human qualities, vision, values, ideas, knowledge and wisdom, such individuals could exert influence across national borders and other lines dividing humanity. However, universal figures of such standing and vision have become increasingly rare.

By virtue of their institutional position, national leaders are well placed to exercise global leadership on global systemic issues. However, those from large and influential countries who might aspire to such roles, and exercise leadership on the basis of their nation’s power, usually find it difficult, nigh impossible, to transcend their national interests, ambitions and agendas, and be perceived and accepted as selfless global leaders. Nonetheless, leaders of very large powerful countries remain best positioned to make a positive impact, provided they are motivated and able to act in the common cause and for the common good.

Leaders from smaller countries, with no territorial ambitions, global designs or power to constitute a threat, but with a vision and interest in all aspects of international affairs, can and often do play an influential role in the world arena. This has been demonstrated by a number of illustrious national leaders from the developing countries, as well as several leaders from less powerful countries in the North. For example, some Nordic leaders, in the period before their countries and elites were enveloped in a neo-liberal mist, played an influential independent role in development matters, contributing in a significant manner to the orientation and policy content of multilateral processes and organi-sations.

To exercise world leadership, it is important to have an institutional platform that legitimises and indeed mandates the exercise of this function. The United Nations, as the universal, representative, secular institution of all states and peoples, provides such an institutional platform for global thinking and the projection of a global vision. It can be used by heads of state or others. Its Secretary-General, in particular, is mandated to perform such a global leadership function.

The global leadership potential of the post of the UN Secretary-General, and the directorships of international organisations, has been amply demonstrated on a number of occasions, for example, in seminal reports issued, and policy-conceptual frameworks prepared and proposed under the Secretary-General’s imprimatur. Similarly, executive heads have presided over UN conferences on global issues that have built awareness and consensus, and have initiated programmes that have helped to orient and shape thinking and action by the international community and its member-states.

However, such initiatives have not been appreciated by those at the centre of power in the North when these diverged from their interests and views, for example, on such issues as development, the environment and indeed peace-keeping. This was evident during the recent unipolar period when the already limited policy space allowed to the Secretary-General shrank noticeably.

In general, the executive heads, including the UN Secretary-General, are expected to be neutral on key policy issues, to not exhibit intellectual excellence or in general not to rock the boat. They are expected to act as a manager/adminis-trator and to obey policy signals coming from the “centre”. Increasingly fine filters are utilised to vet potential candidates for such senior positions, in order to avoid the recruitment of potentially “troublesome” or overly competent and indepen-dent-minded individuals, as has happened on previous occasions.26

One can only hope that the changing global policy context will favour greater latitude for initiative and action to enable future UN Secretaries-General to exercise global leadership. For this, however, it will be necessary to select exceptional personalities with the required global statesmanship qualities, knowledge, and experience. In fact, the UN member-states will need to revisit and review the sensitive and rather neglected subject of the role and mandates of the UN Secretary-General and of the UN secretariat in a globalising world.

Given the political realities and the limits within which intergovernmental organisations are likely to continue to operate, the role of the person occupying the highly demanding post of Secretary-General could be given greater credibility, support and political weight on complex global systemic policy issues by the establishment of a UN “council of elders” composed of “wise men and women”. The leadership potential and beneficial synergies of a high level, diverse and representative group of thinkers are evident. Such a council would assemble renowned, distinguished personalities and leaders with high intellectual qualifications, expertise and experience in critical domains of knowledge. They would be of high moral standing, have a global vision, and be dedicated to serve humanity and the international community.

Acting in an advisory capacity to the UN and its Secretary-General, the proposed group would offer its collective views, expertise and wisdom. It would provide rallying guidance on specific and cross-cutting issues on the global agenda, and also support the UN and the Secretary-General’s work, positions and actions. Such a council, from which the Secretary-General would be mandated to seek advisory opinions on given issues and which would provide him with permanent counsel in his daily work, should have at its disposal intellectual, expert and logistical support of the highest calibre. It should be able to express opinions and provide comment on issues on the international agenda that are of common interest and concern, at the request of the Secretary-General and of UN bodies, and on its own initiative.

It is possible to think of a number of ways in which the global leadership roles and presence of the UN Secretary-General could be enhanced.27 The Secretary-General should be able to present the common view and position of the various organisations and agencies that comprise the UN system on given, overarching subjects on the global agenda. This objective could be furthered by greatly intensified, substantive cooperation among the various UN system organisations. Such cooperation is taking place at the level of their executive heads through the Chief Executives Board (CEB). However, efforts need to be made to transcend the existing, traditionally rather sterile concept of mere administrative or bureaucratic coordination, including by establishing a substantive joint secretariat of the UN system, for in-depth, continuous work on global systemic issues.

Increasingly, an important function of the UN will be to help identify and foster the emergence of individuals who can contribute to global leadership on given aspects of the international agenda. Such individuals might arise from within its ranks and fora,28 or from different spheres of international public and private life. The use of celebrities or “goodwill ambassadors” from the world of the arts, entertainment and sport, to publicize given issues and convey messages is a good way to popularise such issues and attract the attention of the general public.

Demos and the UN: The United Nations, according to its Charter, is an organisation of the world’s peoples. It is they who experience the consequences of its globally important decisions and actions, or lack thereof. Such crucial decisions are taken by someone, somewhere, on the basis of intellectual and policy constructs, economic and game theory models, deals and bargains, and special interests. However, the world’s peoples, unlike its elites, are insufficiently seen or heard in the international policy arena. They need to have structured access and regular presence, and a voice in world affairs. Allowing them to participate and contribute to orienting world society remains an unfulfilled institutional need and policy objective. They constitute an immense reservoir of ideas and grassroots dynamism, which should be listened to and engaged.

The peoples of the world also need to be well-informed and aware of global issues. They should be helped to better understand the functioning of the world system and the United Nations, and to perceive common planetary needs and their own place and role in the larger setting. It is thus important that the United Nations has the means to convey to a worldwide audience the knowledge and information needed for a fuller appreciation and understanding of global structures, processes and events, and the cause-effect linkages that bind these together and often play a role in the everyday lives of common people.

The United Nations, in its mission to provide inclusive participation and foster global leadership, has the challenge of bringing into focus and involving the base of the global pyramid.

The emergence and spread through the Internet of virtual communities of like-minded individuals and groups concerned with global issues, can contribute to this objective. It is now possible for people, who are without resources and means to organise and travel, to communicate with each other, forge links, and create and maintain global networks and movements.

Such movements will need to be brought into the mainstream and taken into account in future arrangements. In general, with the help of the Internet, ideas and objectives which inspire and bring people together in a common effort— there are plenty of these on the global UN agenda and there will be many more in the future—should circulate with greater ease and contribute to the formation of a genuine world public opinion on issues of planetary concern.

The establishment of a UN parliamentary assembly has been suggested, as a more direct link between the world’s peoples and inter-governmental institutions. It would involve legislators of member-states, and possibly provide for the direct election of its members by citizens worldwide. It would serve as a forum to hear the many and diverse voices and views of the people and to consult their opinions on major issues. This would be an important step towards the democratisation of international governance.

Civil society is increasingly influential in the world policy arena. Certain NGOs from the North, including those that are financed by corporate or government sources, have massive funds at their disposal. Here again, the North-South asymmetry is evident, with most NGOs originating in the North, while the minority from the South are usually without adequate means to operate properly, or in some cases are funded by donors from the North.

This situation is illustrated by the contrast between the Davos World Economic Forum and the Porto Alegre World Social Forum. The former is properly constituted and amply funded, attracts the attention of the global media, and enjoys access to political and economic power centres and elites. The latter is without resources, and without the organisational capacity for sustained follow-up; it is largely ignored by the global media, and has virtually no access to centres of power. Nevertheless, the World Social Forum has proven its political and social importance and potential. It has generated over the years views and ideas that were timely and premonitory, and have shown the need for and the importance of an organised and focused global expression of alternative thinking.29

An Alter-UN: A competing, mirror organisation of the United Nations comes to mind as a way to energise and stimulate the UN and the inter-governmental process. It would diversify the global political landscape, and help to counter the trend of concentration of power and influence within the political and moneyed elites which control the existing multilateral institutional establish-ment and constrain its inherent potential.

As an institutionalised version of the concept of the Porto Alegre World Social Forum, the proposed Alter-UN should be inspired by a progressive vision of world affairs. Such a vision cannot find proper access or full expression in the existing global machinery and the structural and power constraints that characterise it. Thus it remains inadequately represented and lacks the necessary influence in the formal inter-governmental discourse. In this situation, street protests are often the only option for such views to be noticed by the establishment, the media and wider public. Regrettably these are often ad hoc events and sideshows of inter-national conferences, and are soon forgotten.

An Alter-UN—which could be funded by voluntary and/or regular contributions, including micro-donations from ordinary citizens via the Internet, and established in a politically friendly and supportive location—should focus on the “big picture” and select key policy, systemic and geo-strategic issues that are on the UN agenda. From a “bottom-up” perspective, it should work to distil views, approaches and positions inspired by common interests, needs and objectives. It should monitor and comment on the functioning of the world system and its impact on the collective welfare and prospects of humanity. Crucially, it should provide the institutional focus for highly fragmented and decentralised alter-movements to constantly gather and interact, be vocal and visible.

The ideas, initiatives, competition, proposals and solutions emerging from such a UN alter-ego forum and organisation would serve to stimulate the United Nations itself and the formal intergovernmental process, and help in search of appropriate solutions. The proposed forum would also help the very base of society to contribute to global leadership by drawing attention to the thinking and ideas of the individuals, groups and institutions that tend to be marginalised by the existing power structures. The involvement of sympathetic countries in the proceedings of such an Alter-UN should be welcomed.30

The work of an Alter-UN would make an authoritative conceptual, analytical and policy contribution to the constant struggle of ideas and visions that characterise the political processes. This struggle is of global importance, with socio-political goals and issues occupying the centre stage. As it intensifies it will increasingly take place in the world arena, as part of the process of democratisation of world politics and the world economy.

The international information and communi-cation order: In an evolving world society, the media now provides the principal, sometimes the sole, source of information, interpretation and analysis relating to issues of global importance. Indeed, in a number of ways the media plays the combined roles of government propa-ganda Ministry, religious organisation, educa-tional institution and public relations firm by preaching, teaching or marketing appropriate views, including those that are in line with and support corresponding dominant systems or interests.

The media shapes public opinion and influences political structures, processes and outcomes. It influences electorates, and thus the results of elections. Significant financial resources are devoted to media outreach, publicity and advertising by corporate and other moneyed actors in key developed countries to fashion the political processes and determine specific decisions. This involves quid pro-quo arrangements and deals with political candidates and parties, whereby the government policies are traded. These developed countries play pivotal roles in arriving at decisions and acting on global issues; also they promote and protect their objectives and interests worldwide by all means available. Thus the role of the media in determining the political atmosphere and outlook in these countries, and shaping their electoral results, domestic politics and foreign policies, ought to be of major concern to the international community.

The global media, given their worldwide reach and influence, have emerged as key actors in the age of neo-liberal globalisation. These media players are still overwhelmingly concentrated in the North. They are mostly privately owned, commercial enterprises in the hands of powerful corporate and business interests with proactive global strategies, ambitions and agendas. The political orientation of most of these global media, and their principal sources of financial support, are situated markedly to the Right on the international political spectrum. Unavoidably, this colours the content, editorial policy and even the visual orientation of their message.

They also cooperate and coordinate with their governments, including the intelligence and military establishments, in influencing and steering world public opinion and are in tune with the overall policy line they need to follow on important global issues. This is a significant aspect of the global North-South asymmetry and the continuing projection of imperial domination from the traditional centre, in an age when information and the media have evolved into a vital, multipurpose vehicle, a vehicle that is used in political, commercial, economic, cultural, psychological and military applications worldwide.31

As for cyberspace, the Internet has become the backbone of the global communication system and part of everyday reality. Most spheres of modern life, society and economy rely on cyber technologies and applications. In view of this, the exposure to and dependence on these new global systems, their performance, governance and management, their mobilisation potential, income and profit-generating roles, are emerging as political, economic, equity and security issues of general interest. They concern the global economy, national economies and societies, social and economic actors, and billions of individuals everywhere.

The question of the international information and communication order in the 21st century thus assumes strategic importance, including in the consideration of global leadership on global systemic issues and also the multiple roles the United Nations should play in providing such leadership.

In 1973 the Non-Aligned Movement launched its initiative to decolonise information and communication and to counter the corporate control of the media and information content and flows. It raised the issue of the New International Information Order (NIIO), in the context of its broader drive in the UN for the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO). This led to discussions in the UNESCO of the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO), and establishing the International Commission for the Study of Communications Problems to consider the controversial issues involved.

The Commission’s report, known as the MacBride Report, was a balanced, carefully negotiated compromise document.32 Yet it was met by a massive outcry and strongly negative reaction in the North and its media, in particular in the two leading countries, which eventually withdrew from the UNESCO in protest. Since these two countries accounted for around 30 per cent of the agency’s budget, in order to secure their return and its own financial survival the UNESCO was eventually forced to dissociate itself from the Commission’s Report and to banish the issue of the NWICO from its proceedings. This was quite similar to the fate suffered by the international development agenda and the NIEO following the 1981 Cancun Summit.33

The unilateral dismissal of the NWICO issues from the international policy agenda occurred at a strategic moment, coinciding with the dawn of the new information and communications age and the rise of neo-liberal globalisation. The exclusion of the subject prevented the United Nations from undertaking a sustained policy debate and systematic study of the underlying cross-cutting policy issues, and it reduced the subject to the more technical and specialised domains dealt with in the framework of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The situation on the ground has changed significantly since those early days. This includes the rise of the Internet and the expansion of new media and information capacities in the South (for example, Al Jazeera, CCTV, TeleSur), which have contributed to greater diversity and offset to a degree the traditional dominance of the North and vertical nature and content of the global information and communication flows. However, the structural issues and disequilibria, and the related North-South controversies persist. They resurfaced during the 2003-2005 UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), and were also articulated forcefully by certain sectors of civil society.

Given the growing importance in world politics of issues related to the international information and communication order, including the role of the information and communication technologies (ICTs), this topic belongs on the UN agenda as a fully-fledged concern. It should be the subject of regular study, review and debate. There should be nego-tiation of appropriate international instruments, rules and standards for review and governance of this vital aspect of the emerging multilateral system. In this process, it will be necessary to revisit the earlier work, issues and legacies of the NWICO episode, and to draw appropriate policy conclusions, taking into account the changing context and new realities.

There is an urgent need to include these issues in the United Nations’ remit, in view of the existing imbalances and the fact that those who control modern technologies and dominate the communications systems in the cyber-age (including powerful private corporations with global reach), can have inordinate power and influence over global and national developments, processes, opinion and attitudes.

The ongoing expert-level work of the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which was set up as a continuation of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) established by the WSIS, thus assumes very special importance. It includes the proposed establishment of a permanent UN intergovernmental mechanism for the governance of the Internet.34

More importantly, the fact that this work is taking place in the fold of the United Nations, in combination with the WSIS follow-up, could provide the catalyst for including the theme of the “global information and communication system in the 21st century” as a permanent item on the UN agenda. This topic should encompass, among others, such issues as the political economy and geopolitics of world information and communications systems, including the rise of the Internet as the man-made “global commons” and the implications of the drive to privatise and commodify what should be a shared common world resource, as well as the risk of a global cyber hegemony. One of the objectives should be to harness the Internet’s potential to contribute to the empowerment of the marginalised and to the democratisation of global affairs and politics, while countering efforts to turn it into a vehicle for maintaining the North’s dominance.

The need to elaborate a globalisation paradigm: The road towards an emerging or desirable “world society” needs to be marked and inspired by a set of basic principles and objectives. A globalisation paradigm is called for, namely, a conceptual, policy and normative framework which defines and helps to orient the ongoing and future globalisation processes.

Many of the elements of the evolution of such a paradigm already exist in the multilateral sphere. They are also common in academic literature, and public and political discourse and practice at the national and regional levels. These elements need to be brought together, and explored and debated in the United Nations as a priority objective.

Eventually, when agreed, the basic principles should be embodied in a UN Charter on Globalisation—a people-centred, democratic, equitable, sustainable, inclusive, developmental globalisation, and as such a radically different proposition from the still dominant neo-liberal model which originated in the hegemonic, unipolar setting at the close of the 20th century. It means redefining and reclaiming the globalisation process from the neo-liberal-cum-neo-con political, ideological, conceptual and definitional embrace. Also, it means divesting the term of the negative connotations it has acquired in recent decades.

Thus reformulated, it should guide and serve as a reference to individuals, societies, states, and the international community, in confronting contemporary issues and challenges of global significance. These are challenges which need to be dealt with through international cooperation, with the awareness and participation of all countries, societies and individual citizens.

Global projects to deal with global problems: Major and complex international scientific and technological undertakings in quest of knowledge have proven possible and feasible, and contribute to bringing together experts, scientists and engineers from different corners of the planet35 . International public projects on complex global problems, such as climate change, food and health security and the need to evolve sustainable lifestyles and appropriate technologies, should be initiated in a number of domains where pooling of expertise and resources, and institutions of scale are called for and would be beneficial to the international community. Such projects would generate the necessary synergies, knowledge, insights and practical experience, and thus contribute to the global leadership required in the pursuit of given common objectives.

The importance of global UN conferences: World conferences under UN auspices, especially those dealing with cross-cutting, complex subjects, have proved a valuable instrument in the past. They have made it possible to focus attention on given global issues. They have generated in-depth studies and analyses and sensitised public opinion and decision-makers. They have also provided opportunities for debate and wide participation, including that of civil society. And they have produced documents, agreements, plans and programmes of action that have guided follow-up policy and action, and have thus performed a vital global leadership function.

Such conferences have become less frequent. Indeed, they have been discouraged and blocked by key countries, allegedly for being cumbersome, unproductive and costly talk-shops where too many speeches are made. However, global conferences are the only structured means to provide in-depth, collective consideration and analysis of given issues on the world agenda, to encourage global diversity and offer participation to all states, and to produce outcomes which enjoy the backing and support of the international community as a whole.

These conferences will need to be re-established as a regular instrument of international cooperation and global leadership in the 21st century, and a standard feature of multilateralism and the democratisation of international relations. They should include multi-year negotiating conferences, similar, for example, to the Helsinki Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, in the 1970s, that focus on outstanding issues on the world agenda.

Changing the location of UN headquarters: The UN has its headquarters in one of the world’s most exciting and interesting metropolitan areas. However, the organisation has experienced continuous problems on account of its location. For too long it has been exposed to a chronically hostile local political environment and steady pressures from the host country media, govern-ment, vocal political and non-political figures and the public opinion, and has experienced a feeling of “not being wanted”.

The new century, the dawning age of polycentrism and a shifting global balance of power make it imperative and possible to change the location of the headquarters of the United Nations on the basis of a shared view of its member states.

The change of location would be a political and practical measure of fundamental importance. It would contribute to freeing the organisation from the unwarranted political, intellectual and parochial influence and intrusion of the host country.

Moving its headquarters away from the very heart of the “empire” would also mark a symbolic ending of the North-dominated, imperialist, hegemonic order, and bolster the global leadership image and role of the United Nations. And it would signal the beginning of a new polycentric, democratising age in the evolution of international relations and in the life of international organisations. The possible alternative locations for the UN headquarters, that are hospitable and convenient, are many.

(To be continued)


17. This refers in particular to the oldest and most advanced integration experiment, that of the European Union. While it is much more homogeneous than the world at large, this region and its sovereign member- states are confronting in the regional context many practical and policy problems and challenges that the world community will have to face at the global level, as it makes progress towards more ambitious and sophisticated forms of international cooperation and governance under the pressure of emerging issues and needs.

18. Our reflections regarding the UN may be considered as unrealistic given the existing practices, global power configuration and tenacity of structural status quo forces. This, however, is not a sufficient reason for one not to attempt imagining institutional improve-ments which are logical and needed. Anyway, such or similar changes to those that we suggest are gradually likely to impose themselves relatively soon, and for certain in the world of tomorrow, when more advanced international structures and practices for dealing with global issues will be required and will become unavoidable.

19. The constant requests of the developed countries and of TNCs to include the corporate, private sector in formal discussions, recognising its important role in the world economy, and to admit corporations to UN proceedings as part of “civil society”, has been resisted by the developing countries on a number of legal and political grounds. They rightly suspect that such entry by TNCs would further accentuate the existing North-South asymmetries in the world political and economic arena, and boost the ability of the North and its mighty corporate sector to influence the UN and international proceedings.

20. For a discussion of “global governance” and comparison with “world government” see Thomas G. Weiss, What’s Wrong with the United Nations, and How to Fix It, Polity 2008, pp. 216-230. He notes that while traditionally “governance” has been associated with governing and government and institutions that “possess the capacity to enforce decisions”, it is now routinely used “to denote a mushier notion applied to the planet as a whole”. “It captures the regulation of interdependent relations in the absence of any overarching political authority and with institutions that have virtually no power to compel behaviour or exert effective control in international relations”. Ibid, p. 218.

21. A series of reports, books and articles on the subject started with E.B. Steinberg and J.A. Yager, New Means of Financing International Needs, The Brookings Institution, 1978, a study commissioned by UNEP, following the recommendation by the 1972 Stockholm Conference. See also Shijuro Ogata, Paul Volcker, et al., “Financing an Effective United Nations: A Report of the Independent Advisory Group on U.N. Financing”, Ford Foundation 1993, and Harlan Cleveland, Hazel Henderson and Inge Kaul, The United Nations, Policy and Financing Alternatives: Innovative Proposals by Visionary Leaders, 1995, Apex Press.

22. A Declaration on Innovative Sources of Financing for Development was signed by 79 countries, following 2005 UN World’s Leaders’ Meeting for Action against Hunger and Poverty. A ministerial conference on Innovative Financing for Development, which met in Paris in 2006, initiated work on the subject and established the Leading Group on Innovative Financing for Development, composed of 60 states, IGOs and NGOs, to promote actions and discussions about setting up innovative development financing mecha-nisms. The Task Force on International Financial Transactions for Development was established to pursue detailed work on the broader subject of financing development and environment actions. For the detailed report of the Committee of Experts to the Task Force, see Globalising Solidarity: The Case for Financial Levies, Leading Group on Innovative Financing for Development, 2010.

23. Virtual services account for a great number of financial transfers via Internet. As an illustration, according to one estimate sales of ring tones for mobile phones, at $ 0.60 per download, generate around € 700 million per year. Perhaps governments could assign to the UN the global monopoly for downloading ring tones and thus bolster its finances painlessly and at no cost to themselves by spreading the burden among the teenage users of cell phones worldwide? Or, they could explore the possibility of taxing gains made by now mostly private or privatised phone companies from SMS messages, which once used to be free but are now billed to the users at often very high rates. It has been estimated that at present more than 100 billion SMS messages are sent each year.

24. The “taming” of the UNCTAD secretariat mentioned above is a case in point, as is the externally induced closure of the UN Centre for Transnational Corporations (UNCTC). The Centre had undertaken empirical and analytical probing of TNCs and opened up the field for intergovernmental scrutiny, in cooperation with many from the academic and research community. This was not to the liking of TNCs and key developed countries, which pursued the policy of removing the issue of TNCs from the UN agenda, where it had been placed due to pressure from developing countries at the time of their NIEO initiative. See Jennifer Bair, “Taking Aim at the New International Economic Order”, in Philip Minowski and Dieter Plehwe, op.cit., pp. 347-385. A more anodyne approach to TNCs, relying on their “self-discipline and responsibility”, is embodied in the UN Global Compact initiative.

25. The IMF, World Bank and WTO secretariats, which are not within the UN system, operate under more favourable administrative and financial conditions. Much like OECD or the European Commission, they enjoy advantages and have resources at their disposal which do not normally exist in the UN system. Some of their experiences and approaches could no doubt be useful for bolstering the capacities and functioning of the UN international public service.

26. An example of such leadership was Raúl Prebisch, the Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) and the first Secretary General of UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). See Edgar J. Dosman, The Life and Times of Raúl Prebisch, 1901-1986, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2008.

27. See Boutros Boutros-Ghali, “Global Leadership: After the Cold War”, op.cit., and Brian Urquhart and Erskine Childers, A World in Need of Leadership: Tomorrow’s United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, 1996.

28. The potential leadership role of the post of the President of the UN General Assembly, which is the highest and most representative body of the UN system and has been generally marginalised and in the shadow of the Security Council, was demonstrated by the President of the 63rd session of the UN General Assembly. His initiative led to the convening of a UN Conference at the Highest Level on the World Economic and Social Crisis and its Impacts on Development, which met in June 2009. He also established the Commission of Experts of the President of the UN General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System which submitted its final report in September 2009. Of interest in the context of our discussion, these initiatives were not welcomed by some. On the Web, the Conference and the Commission of Experts’ report were referred to as “UN’s Marxist Plan for Global Government” and “UN Red and US ‘Progressives’ Plan World Socialist Government”.

29. See The World Social Forum: Challenging Empires, The Viveka Foundation, 2004. This volume edited by Jai Sen, Anita Anand, Arturo Escobar and Peter Waterman, was the first in-one-place analysis of the World Social Forum and assembled writings of individuals engaged in its work.

30. The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in April 2010, points in this direction. It was organised as a follow-up and reaction to the Copenhagen Conference and as an alternative way to look at the challenge of climate change, from the perspective of grassroots organisations, including those of indigenous peoples.

31. For an empirical study of issues involved, see Anthony Dimaggio, When Media Goes to War: Hegemonic Discourse, Public Opinion, and the Limits of Dissent, Monthly Review Press, 2010.

32. See the MacBride Commission Report, Many Voices, One World: Communication and Society Today and Tomorrow, Towards a New More Just and More Efficient World Information and Communication Order, UNESCO 1980. The Report, which largely disappeared from sight and circulation in the period that followed, has been reprinted by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2003. For critical comments on its too accommodating tone see Hamelink, C., (ed.), Communications in the Eighties: A Reader on the MacBride Report, 1980, reprinted in Whitney, C. et al. (eds.), Sage Publications, 1982. For an account of NIIO and NWICO story, see Kaarle Nordenstreng, “MacBride Report as a Culmination of NWICO”, (www.uta.fi/jour/english/contact/nordenstreng_eng.html), keynote at a Colloquium at Université Stendhal, Grenoble, January 2010.

33. While the formal intergovernmental process was largely blocked, unable to overcome the effects of this initial reaction and veto, and the developing countries did not persist with their drive in the multilateral arena, efforts to follow and analyse the global information and communication issues were pursued in academic circles. An instance of such work is from a joint research group of Paris and Nice universities “Médias et information du Nord et du Sud—du NOMIC au SMSI”, which studies theoretical and political issues that link NWICO and the world information society debates, and considers the impacts of evolving information and communication technologies. Also, see Oliver Boyd-Barrett, ed., Globalisation, Communication, Media and Empire, John Libbey, 2007.

34. For a comprehensive overview of issues see Internet for All, Proceedings of the Third Internet Governance Forum, Hyderabad, India, December 3-6, 2008, edited by Don Maclean, UN, 2009 (www.intgovforum.org/CMS/2009).

35. This potential is demonstrated currently, for example, by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in the framework of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), by the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) or the European Organi-sation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO).

Boutros Boutros-Ghali is from Egypt. He holds an LL.B. from Cairo University and a Ph.D in international law from the Sorbonne University in Paris. Between 1949 and 1977, he was Professor of International Law and International Relations at Cairo University. Among many national functions he was the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (1977-1991), Member of Parliament (1987-1991), Vice-President of the Socialist International (1990-1991) and Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs (1991). Boutros-Ghali was the sixth Secretary-General of the United Nations (1992-1996), Secretary-General of the International Organisation of the Francophonie (1997-2002), and Chairperson of the Board, South Centre (2003-2006). Currently he is the President of the International Panel on Democracy and Development, UNESCO; Institute for Mediterranean Political Studies, Club de Monaco; Curatorium of the Academy of International Law, The Hague; and National Council for Human Rights of Egypt. He has authored more than 100 publications in English, French and Arabic on regional and international affairs, law and diplomacy, and political science.

Branislav Gosovic is from Yugoslavia. He holds a Ph.D in political science from the University of California, Berkeley. A former UN career official, he worked in UNCTAD, UNEP, and ECLAC, as well as, on secondment, in the World Commission on Environment and Development and the South Commission. He headed the South Centre secretariat (1991-2005). He is member of Development Alternatives Global (DAG) and author of several books and articles on development, international relations and the UN.

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